Inaccuracy Ensnares Wolf Talk

Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / April 2, 2004

In recent newspaper and Internet advertisements, the Defenders of Wildlife is misleading the public about predator management in Alaska as part of an "emergency" national fund-raising campaign. I acknowledge that predator management is a controversial and value-laden issue and recognize that there will be some opposition to the programs that are now under way.

However, feeding false and deceitful information to the public in order to gain support and financial aid is both irresponsible and unethical. Please allow me to provide you with the rational and factual information.

Defenders of Wildlife is trying to link the state wolf-control programs with moose-hunting regulations that allow the harvest of moose calves in certain limited areas. Let me set the record straight: Contrary to the allegation, the harvest of moose calves is not allowed in the same places where predator control is authorized. Obviously, if we are trying to get a moose herd to grow, every calf is important.

Harvest of moose calves by hunters occurs only rarely and only in a few areas where moose are abundant and are having a negative impact on their habitat. In most of Alaska, both moose calves and cows are protected from hunting. However, Alaska is a huge state and moose populations vary greatly. It would be irresponsible for the Board of Game to insist that the same hunting regulations occur everywhere in Alaska. That is like saying that Iowa must have the same hunting regulations as Oregon.

The changes made by the Board of Game at its March meeting did nothing to increase the harvest of moose calves. The board made a technical correction to make the regulations more user-friendly, provide greater protection for moose calves in most of the state, yet allow their harvest where needed for the health of a herd and its habitat.

The Department of Fish and Game recommended this action because the harvest of moose calves is a legitimate wildlife management tool that can, where appropriate, help ensure balanced and healthy moose herds and an abundant harvest. This approach is widely used across much of the Lower 48, Canada and in Scandinavian countries to manage ungulate populations when they are at high levels.

Other misinformation would benefit from additional clarification. Wolf-reduction programs are occurring only in focused locations where predators are preventing moose herds from achieving management objectives; two programs are under way and others may occur in the future. Only agents of the state holding a special permit are authorized to take wolves using airplanes in these programs. Contrary to the information presented by the Defenders of Wildlife, use of helicopters is not allowed.

The same organization is also saying that hunters in Alaska are allowed to harvest female bears accompanied by cub. This is not true. The Board of Game did adopt a bear management policy that contains several potential techniques to reduce bear populations, but none are in effect at this time.

Everyone providing information to the public about predator management has a responsibility to present factual information. It may be an effective fund-raising technique to alarm people by disseminating distorted information, but it is truly reprehensible. Those trying to understand the predator management program in Alaska deserve a complete picture. Alaska has a large, healthy and secure wolf population because we manage all wildlife species, including wolves, to ensure their long-term viability and sustainable use.

Mike Fleagle is chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

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